Red, Hot & Blue–Laurel

The Laurel branch of this Memphis-style barbecue chain gets a lot right.

From June 2006 Cheap Eats

Purists will tell you that no good barbecue can come from a chain, that proper 'cue doesn't pull away so easily from the bone, and that righteous barbecue joints don't attempt to do much more than one kind of meat, one kind of way. All good points.

But there's just something winning about the Laurel branch of this local chain, launched in the late '80s by a group that included the late Republican consultant Lee Atwater and patterned in the likes of the legendary Corky's in Memphis. It may not do any one thing brilliantly, but it does a mess of things very well.

The ribs, whether swabbed with sauce or treated to a dry rub, don't always come to the table as moist as they should be, but the amiable servers–many of whom have been with the place since it opened and are as integral to the party atmosphere as the Stax-Volt soundtrack–are always happy to swap them for another batch.

And ribs are only a part of the story: The restaurant does a terrific smoked chicken, a crispy fried catfish that could make a Southerner pine for home, and a pulled-pork sandwich that goes from good to great when you ask to substitute the roll it's served on for the hot, buttered roll that comes with the ribs. And there's not a single afterthought among the sides, which include smoky baked beans, a sweet corn relish, and excellent seasoned French fries.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.